One for All Season(ing)s

Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie (2002)

Another book in my Postcolonial Nationalism and Feminisms Lit class, Salt and Saffron could be described as a modern Pakistani Romeo and Juliet, but it is so much more than that. The story follows the dramatic saga of the Dard-e-dil family, an elite family of story-tellers with young, American-educated Aliya narrating her return to Pakistan. On the plane ride home, Aliya meets attractive Khaleel. When Aliya learns that Khaleel’s family is from the wrong side of town, however, she is immediately unnerved despite her attraction, and spends the rest of the novel trying to reconcile her prejudice.

We learn that Aliya’s aversion for a romantic relationship with a man of lower class stems from family opinion, and is particularly stinging due to her aunt Mariam Apa’s desertion  in order to marry the family cook. Aliya and Mariam, according to family lore, were a unique pair–one of the family’s cursed “not-quite-twins.” The Dard-e-dil family is plagued we these “not-quites,” including her grandfather and his two brothers, who were born just before midnight, at midnight, and just after midnight. One misunderstanding after another ends up tearing the adult triplets  apart, mirroring the historical Indian-Pakistani partition of 1947, permanently dividing the family. Several years later, Mariam and Aliya, though of a different generation chronologically, were “born” into the family on the same day, as the day of Aliya’s birth was when Mariam, the daughter of one of the triplets, first came to live with them.  Mariam Apa is draped in mystery. The family was unaware of her existence until that very day, as her father had left years earlier without a trace. Also, she has a habit of only speaking to order the family meals for the day, only speaking to the family cook.  Aliya, however,  manages to communicate with Mariam Apa without using words due to some “not-quite” connection, which sends her into a bit of an identity crisis upon Mariam Apa’s desertion. On returning to Pakistan, Aliya sets out on a quest to uncover the secrets entrenched in her family, collecting story after story, because until she does so, she will be unable to crack her prejudice against Khaleel’s background and find an inner peace.

Part history, part mystery, Salt and Saffron had me devouring its pages, so much so that I chose to sit and finish it in the library after work instead of wasting the seven minutes it would take me to walk home first. Though it gets a bit tedious at times, sifting through the history of her family, Shamsie keeps it rolling with Aliya’s sharp humor and exciting twists in the plot that the reader learns right along with the narrator.

2 Stars

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